By Pete Kennedy, Esq.
Controversial antibiotic test requirements imposed by the FDA will be going into effect next month in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), Pennsylvania will be the last state to implement the testing requirements; FDA initially issued the regulations in 2011.1 The requirements will especially impact raw milk farmers who sell part of their production to dairy cooperatives for pasteurization as well as selling raw milk direct to the consumer or through retail stores. The main reason that the FDA testing mandate has received much more attention in Pennsylvania than in any other state is that there are more producers in Pennsylvania than in any other state whose raw milk goes for both pasteurization and for direct consumption. Because of laws in neighboring states that either restrict or prohibit raw milk sales or distribution, consumers in both the northeastern and mid-Atlantic regions rely on Pennsylvania raw milk producers for their sustenance.
The antibiotic testing requirements stipulate that farmers producing either raw milk for pasteurization or raw milk to be manufactured into other dairy products (such as raw or pasteurized cheese) must test every batch of raw milk for antibiotic residue even if the producer’s dairy operation is certified organic. Producers who only produce raw milk for human consumption are not subject to the FDA testing requirement. Producers subject to the testing mandate will either have to do their own testing on equipment that could cost thousands of dollars to purchase, pay thousands each year for testing by a state-approved lab or, in the case of producers selling to a co-op, wait to get test results (milk haulers transporting milk for co-ops collect samples for testing of each batch of raw milk they pick up from a farm belonging to the co-op). Producers cannot commingle any milk from a subsequent batch until they get test results back from the co-op; further complicating matters is the fact that co-ops typically do not report test results to member farmers at all, much less on a timely basis. PDA has gotten reports of producers working with co-ops to create a process for timely reporting of test results but it remains to be seen how these efforts pan out.
Dairy Farmers of America, a co-op with a history of strong opposition to legalizing raw milk sales for human consumption, controls a substantial percentage of raw milk produced for pasteurization in Pennsylvania, possibly over one-half of the total. Trickling Springs Creamery, a well-known Pennsylvania co-op, has already notified its members that one hundred percent of their production must go to the co-op; members will not be able to retain any raw milk for retail sales or for manufacturing into any other dairy product. If a farmer selling raw milk to a co-op for pasteurization is found to violate the antibiotic testing requirements, FDA can not only stop the farmer’s shipments to the co-op, it can shut down the co-op from making any shipments in interstate commerce.
To its credit, PDA (with FDA’s approval) has established a variance process, whereby those dairies to which it grants a variance will be exempt from the antibiotic testing requirements.2 Forty farmers have applied for the variance so far. Those eligible for the variance include farmers who pasteurize and bottle all the raw milk they produce and those manufacturing other dairy products only from raw milk produced on their farm. Producers selling any of their raw milk production to a co-op are not eligible for a variance per order of FDA.
A PDA official estimated that as many as one-half of the sixty-eight Pennsylvania dairies permitted to produce and sell raw milk for human consumption are Grade A dairies that sell some of their milk production to a co-op. If these dairies aren’t able to make a workable arrangement with their co-ops on reporting test results, the cost of antibiotic testing could drive many to drop their permits and get out of the raw milk business even though antibiotic residues in the milk was never a problem for any of them to begin with. The FDA testing requirement, in their cases, has nothing to do with protecting the public health.
1. Public Health Service/FDA, Appendix N Drug Residue Testing and Farm Surveillance, “Grade A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance 2015 Revision, Note: the PMO is a document governing the production, distribution and transportation of raw milk intended for pasteurization; Pennsylvania and nearly all other states have adopted the PMO and the other states must have standards at least as strict.
2. PDA Commissioner Russell Reddng, Letter to Pennsylvania Milk Permitholders, 4 October 2017.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.